Date of publication
10.6. 2021.
Rijeka & Belgrade
Translated by
Jelena Jušćak
, , ,

How is “dis­tance” cre­ated? Or, what con­di­tions must be met in the present moment of the glob­al pan­dem­ic to begin cre­at­ing the paradigm “about” it? Are we not wit­ness­ing the trans­form­a­tion of think­ing about dis­tance and its nor­mal­iz­a­tion, that is, its norm­a­tiv­iz­a­tion? What dis­tance are we even talk­ing about? The theme of “dis­tance” emerged imme­di­ately after the out­break and slow­down of the first wave of the Covid-​19 vir­us pan­dem­ic, and fol­lowed with equal atten­tion san­it­ary and epi­demi­olo­gic­al pro­cesses, but also polit­ic­al and insti­tu­tion­al decisions about coer­cion and restric­tion. Currently, we refer to the phys­ic­al and geo­graph­ic­al dis­tance with the arbit­rar­i­ness of the pre­scribed 1.5 or 2 meters apart, with con­tro­ver­sies and already the first stud­ies on the effect­ive­ness of the suf­fi­cient dis­tance. We think of it as a gap or space “in between.” It is rep­res­en­ted spa­tially in the form of nuc­lei that touch and inter­sect, designed to fit the geo­met­ric shapes, rooms, and phys­ic­al objects of houses and hos­pit­al wards, as well as quar­ant­ined neigh­bour­hoods, cit­ies, regions, coun­tries, islands, and finally con­tin­ents. Dotted arrows or con­cent­ric circles mark the pre­scribed dis­tance on one side, while arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence algorithms use pre­cisely input­ted val­ues of phys­ic­al body dis­tance to com­pute viable mod­els for pre­dict­ing short or long-​term sci­entif­ic and social responses to pre­vent the spread of infec­tion and reduce its neg­at­ive con­sequences. In this way, of course, they con­struct a new real­ity and pro­ject it into sev­er­al dif­fer­ent scen­ari­os, mark­ing the trans­ition to yet unknown forms of trans­formed rela­tions of social dis­tance. This lex­icon entry aims to point to the neces­sary dia­logue between the sci­ence of “life,” epi­demi­ology, its related dis­cip­lines, and the social sci­ences and human­it­ies, in order to find a new “dic­tion­ary” of dis­tance that does not viol­ate the rights derived from demo­crat­ic val­ues. Most import­antly, the fol­low­ing them­at­iz­a­tion of “dis­tance” derives from mon­it­or­ing the san­it­ary pro­cesses and polit­ic­al and insti­tu­tion­al decisions dur­ing the pan­dem­ic in the first half of 2020, as well as coer­cion and restric­tion caused by the spread of the pan­dem­ic. Distance is first thought of as a phys­ic­al space, as a gap between, in determ­in­ing devi­ations, dis­place­ments, and place­ments of empty spaces in each of the worlds that may or may not have points of con­tact. It is thought of as con­cent­ric circles that do not touch or inter­sect. The con­cent­ric circles mark the pre­scribed dis­tance, while arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence algorithms with pre­cise input val­ues cal­cu­late applic­a­tion mod­els. Therefore, it is now neces­sary to “meas­ure” the dis­tance using coordin­ate sys­tems and equa­tions in which gen­er­al bio­lo­gic­al pro­cesses, such as life, con­ta­gion, infec­tion, trans­mis­sion, and also immunity or autoim­munity, are among the main ele­ments. These ele­ments, of course, belong to the same lex­icon of use and could be visu­ally rep­res­en­ted as a thesaur­us of mul­ti­di­men­sion­al value sets. However, since people cog­nise the world and them­selves in it, the second step is to speak of dis­tance as an epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al pro­cess that:

  1. a) con­nects dif­fer­ent ele­ments of real­ity or the same ele­ments of dif­fer­ent real­it­ies with each other
  2. b) in which these ele­ments inev­it­ably become inter­act­ive through their con­spicu­ous intermingling
  3. c) to dis­cov­er the reas­on for their naming
  4. d) to evoke a chain of events (not neces­sar­ily caus­al) that makes “dis­tance” neces­sary in any form of future them­at­iz­a­tion of newly aris­en social rela­tions, first as a phe­nomen­on and now as a concept to be rethought.

The first step in determ­in­ing the “vocab­u­lary” of dis­tance is not test­ing and pro­cessing the word itself but find­ing exactly those very ele­ments that make the idea of dis­tance the word “dis­tance” and also the concept through which “dis­tan­cing” becomes an oper­at­ing vector.

Let us men­tion that we embarked on this adven­ture fol­low­ing Michel Foucault and his phrase vocab­u­laire de la dis­tance, used in his 1963 mani­festo to com­ment on the status of “fic­tion” in rela­tion to real­ity. The author’s inten­tion was to erase from lan­guage use all the words and con­tra­dic­tions that main­tain and so eas­ily “dia­lec­tise” fic­tion. Foucault was con­cerned with the “con­front­a­tion and abol­i­tion of the sub­ject­ive and the object­ive, the intern­al and the extern­al, real­ity and the ima­gin­ary” and with repla­cing the “lex­icon of mix­ture” (lexique du mélange)1Tel Quel: Théorie d’Ensemble. Manifest Tel Quel Collectif with texts by Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-​Louis Baudry, Jean-​Joseph Goux, Jean-​Louis Houdebine, Julia Kristeva, Philippe Sollers, and Jean Thibaudeau, Paris 1968. with the “vocab­u­lary of dis­tance” (le vocab­u­laire de la dis­tance), in order to demon­strate and then prove that the dis­tance of lan­guage in rela­tion to things is in itself fictitious.

Various meth­ods in the his­tory of eth­no­graphy, soci­ology, anthro­po­logy, or social psy­cho­logy that have been employed to describe, map, meas­ure, and ana­lyse dis­tance as remote­ness and to con­struct mod­els of social dis­tan­cing, dis­tan­ci­ation sociale, and social dis­tance, have often var­ied in their degree of prag­mat­ism, espe­cially giv­en the advent of new tech­niques and tech­no­lo­gies. They were rarely unam­bigu­ous and always entailed the inclu­sion of eco­nom­ic, polit­ic­al, and ideo­lo­gic­al premises of related dis­cip­lines. Increasingly com­plex oper­a­tion­al con­cepts were intro­duced to describe newly observed factors and to build up, first dia­gram­mat­ic and later para­met­ric, struc­tures of social rela­tions. The human world gradu­ally lost its one-​dimensionality and became the world of all beings and things. The sim­pler coordin­ate sys­tem was lost and became inclus­ive, just as the devel­op­ment of the micro­scope and tele­scope reshaped the scale of per­cep­tion, mak­ing human rela­tion­ships even more com­plex: the tiny world of bac­teria and cells becomes closer, but also much farther in its oth­er­ness. From the earli­est explor­a­tions of Robert Hooke2Hooke, Robert. Micrographia: Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries Thereupon. Royal Society, 1665. Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1549. Accessed 7 Sept. 2020. and Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek3Leeuwenhoek, Antoni van. Alle de brieven. Deel 3: 1679 – 1683. 1948. De Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren, www.dbnl.org/tekst/leeu027alle03_01/leeu027alle03_01_0002.php#b00432005. Accessed 7 Sept. 2020. to today, when we are faced with the mys­tery of the Covid-​19 vir­us, people have formed new per­spect­ives – and in spe­cif­ic ways have always put them­selves at a dis­tance from oth­ers who ought to be included or per­haps excluded.

Let us remem­ber that, accord­ing to Georg Simmel, the oper­ab­il­ity of dis­tance mani­fes­ted itself through the prob­lem­at­iz­a­tion of the stranger in the text “The Stranger,” where Simmel intro­duces the notion of spa­tial soci­ology and thus cat­egor­izes dis­tance or remote­ness in the social world by dis­tin­guish­ing the “vag­a­bond” and the “out­sider” from the “stranger” – who should not be clas­si­fied as a com­plete reneg­ade. The “stranger” is near and far and only loosely con­nec­ted to the com­munity, while the reneg­ade is far away.4Simmel, Georg. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. The Free Press, 1950, p. 263. Simmel con­nects the idea of the stranger and the concept of social dis­tance with the cat­egory of human­kind, spe­cific­ally the cat­egory of human­kind in the three-​dimensional Euclidean coordin­ate sys­tem, which is import­ant for under­stand­ing the trans­form­a­tion of social dis­tance ana­lysed in this text. Social dis­tance is defined as a social col­li­sion between dif­fer­ent social groups when there is an effort to cre­ate a clear cat­egor­iz­a­tion that dis­tin­guishes race, eth­ni­city, gender, and oth­er dif­fer­ences, which in the 20th cen­tury has become a social phe­nomen­on. In the same way, the stranger becomes a mul­ti­fa­ceted fig­ure, sub­jec­ted to dif­fer­ent types of ste­reo­types and pre­ju­dices. In the uni­valence of such a coordin­ate sys­tem and due to the fact that he does not belong to any group, the stranger, who does not belong any­where, has always been a factor in the con­sol­id­a­tion (of the group). During the 19th and 20th cen­tur­ies, social dis­tan­cing solid­i­fied as a pro­cess in which accept­ance and detach­ment, assim­il­a­tion and rejec­tion, mod­elled the very well-​known bin­ary oppos­i­tions of urban/​rural, young/​old, white/​black/​yellow, individual/​community. The con­sequences were long-​lasting and com­plex because they also mani­fes­ted in dif­fer­ent value sys­tems when it comes to describ­ing social dis­tan­cing in dif­fer­ent dis­cip­lines. Let us not for­get that in the his­tory of eman­cip­at­ory move­ments, the fight against segreg­a­tion began primar­ily as the abol­i­tion of vari­ous prac­tices of de jure segreg­a­tion, only to evolve into an equally dif­fi­cult pro­cess of erad­ic­at­ing de facto segreg­a­tion or the use of social distancing.

In oper­a­tion­al­iz­ing the struggle against the bin­ary, Adolf Reinach ought to be men­tioned. At the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, he iden­ti­fied the exist­ence of cer­tain neg­at­ive social acts (neg­at­ive soziale Akte)5Reinach, Adolf. “Nichtsoziale und soziale Akte.” Sämtliche Werke, edited by Karl Schumann and Barry Smith, Philosophia, 1989, pp. 355 – 360. through the phe­nomen­o­logy of oppos­i­tion. Reinach draws atten­tion to the ima­gin­ary dif­fer­ence between neg­at­ive social acts and simple neg­at­ive acts that fit into the account of the con­struc­tion of social dis­tance, which is thus dif­fer­ent from phys­ic­al dis­tance. The effort with which Reinach thinks of the con­struc­tion of social dis­tance and neg­at­ive social acts is now inversely pro­por­tion­al, because it implies the reverse pro­cess of reflec­tion.6Reinach, Adolf. “Die sozialen Akte.” Sämtliche Werke, edited by Karl Schumann and Barry Smith, Philosophia, 1989, pp. 158 – 169.

What, then, is left of social rela­tions, and how are they formed in a situ­ation in which dis­tance ele­ment­ally sep­ar­ates two bod­ies which in any case have no con­tact? How to determ­ine the dis­tance that nev­er­the­less implies or entails a par­tial or per­haps ima­gin­ary belong­ing to a social group? What do two or more bod­ies that can­not touch or approach and poten­tially move towards each oth­er do in the first place?

Although social dis­tance indic­ates the clear pres­ence and exist­ence of the oth­er, this time, unlike Simmel, the oth­er is sim­il­ar to us and at a com­par­able and suf­fi­cient dis­tance from us. This con­cep­tion of the oth­er seems to have some unusu­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics: the oth­er is someone who can determ­ine us and on whom we are depend­ent; the oth­er, in his dif­fer­ence, can­not in any way be assim­il­ated to us or reduced to us; the lan­guage of the oth­er is not my lan­guage; it is very rare to cooper­ate with the oth­er at a dis­tance or to per­form a joint action; one can­not walk or eat with the oth­er or shake hands with him, any more than the oth­er can be a guest in our house or a host in his house. All these basic forms of close­ness and intim­acy, imple­men­ted and reg­u­lated by social dis­tance, can be defined and recon­struc­ted even more pre­cisely in order to find, in reverse, the mean­ing of “social” in the term “social dis­tance.” The oth­er at a dis­tance is the oth­er from whom we neces­sar­ily dif­fer (because it is, in fact, the dif­fer­ence or dis­tinc­tion that sim­ul­tan­eously pro­duces dis­tance), and the “oth­er” is not sub­stan­tially the same as “I,” that is, as “we.”

We move a step fur­ther with Pathos der Distanze, as for­mu­lated by Nietzsche, which in this sense is no dif­fer­ent from Levinas’s insist­ence on the exist­ence of the oth­er­ness of the oth­er or the abso­lute oth­er (the oth­er is so dif­fer­ent that he is actu­ally a god or an enemy and there­fore is not near us or close to us, which brings us back to Simmel). Nietzsche’s for­mu­la­tion was inter­est­ing at one point because it described the effort, spe­cif­ic to cer­tain eras, to aggress­ively estab­lish “dis­tance” or “dis­tinc­tion from the oth­er” from anoth­er body. Therefore, one of the basic char­ac­ter­ist­ics of social dis­tance is its autore­fer­en­tial dimen­sion or imper­at­ive. It is very rel­ev­ant today, as we often hear the per­form­at­ive: “Keep your dis­tance!” or “Fais de la dis­tance!”7Lütticken, Sven. “‘Keep Your Distance’ Aby Warburg on Myth and Modern Art.” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, 2005, pp. 45 – 59.

Another import­ant thing in determ­in­ing dis­tance is cru­cial here. Aby Warburg, a point of ref­er­ence for many 20th-cen­tury semi­ot­i­cians, intro­duces a crit­ic­al atti­tude to taste that should include a basic exer­cise in the form­a­tion of dis­tance. He does this by lament­ing monu­ment­al art and con­trast­ing the “bour­geois ‘prim­it­ive’ desire to embrace real­ity and demand ‘tan­gible’ details with con­crete art that is much more civ­il­ized.” Warburg nos­tal­gic­ally writes: “There is no more dis­tance [Es giebt keine Entfernung mehr!]” He sup­ple­ments this state­ment with his recipe: “Live and do not hurt me! [Du lebst und thust mir nichts!]”8Warburg, Aby. Fragments sur l’expression. ECARQUILLE, 2015. Even in the mis­un­der­stood Warburg, dis­tan­cing is instruc­tion and a desir­able form of action and opinion.

What does this per­form­at­ive tell us any­way, and does it now carry a new mean­ing that will inev­it­ably trans­form our vocab­u­lary of dis­tance? What about slo­gans like “don’t come near me,” “don’t touch me,” or “I have noth­ing to do with you” (although I know you exist, that you are near), but also, “I don’t want you to hurt or con­tam­in­ate me,” “I don’t want you to give me your mor­tal­ity” (I don’t want to be mor­tal like you), “I don’t want you to give me what I need to get rid of myself or what you haven’t got­ten rid of” (what is ali­en to you – vir­us or cor­rup­tion or mor­tal­ity). What do these slo­gans say? This kind of res­ist­ance to the oth­er is what cre­ates the dis­tance and cer­tainly cre­ates the illu­sion that there is a pos­sib­il­ity of a simple, detached life (or one’s own naked life) or a shared life or in a group.

Is it really a simple life (blosse Leben), that is, a life that seems to pre­cede everything (and there­fore the law, that is, the norm)? What exactly is blosse Leben? It should be borne in mind that the term blosse Leben was used four times by Walter Benjamin in Zur Kritik der Gewalt,9Benjamin, Walter. Zur Kritik der Gewalt und andere Aufsätze. Surhamph, 1965. while Giorgio Agamben unduly con­verts it into nuda vita, nacht­es Leben in Homo sacer.10Agamben, Giorgio. Homo sacer. Il potere sov­rano e la nuda vita. Einaudi, 1995, p. 75. Similarly, in Nudità he uses nuda cor­por­eità.11Agamben, Giorgio. Nudità. Figure, 2009, p. 89. For the sake of accur­acy, and because of the later implic­a­tions and uses of this brief dis­tan­cing in the polit­ic­al lex­icon, we need to update that Benjamin uses this expres­sion to con­tra­dict Kurt Hiller and his view on exist­ence as being far more import­ant than hap­pi­ness or simple life. (Falsch und niedrig ist de Satz, dass Dasein höh­er als gerecht­es Dasein stehe, wenn Dasein nichts als blosses Leben bedeutet soll – und in dieser Bedeutung steht er in der genan­nten Überlegung).12Benjamin, Walter. Zur Kritik der Gewalt und andere Aufsätze. Surhamph, 1965, p. 62.

When think­ing about the semi­ot­ic lim­its of life, one must start primar­ily from the first dec­ades of the 20th cen­tury. What is life, any­way? More pre­cisely, what is the life of some­thing liv­ing (la vie d’un vivant)?13Canguilhem, Georges. “Vie.” Encyclopædia Universalis S.A., vol. 16, 1977, pp. 764 – 769. At the begin­ning of his 1966 lec­ture “New Knowledge of Life” (La nou­velle con­nais­sance de la vie), Canguilhem cla­ri­fies: “By life we ​​mean the present par­ti­ciple or the past par­ti­ciple of the verb to live, liv­ing and alive.”14Canguilhem, Georges. Études d’histoire et de philo­soph­ie des sci­ences. Vrin, 2016, p. 335. Positivistically and func­tion­ally, the early 19th-cen­tury defin­i­tion is con­vin­cing enough: “Life is a set of func­tions that res­ist death.”15Bichat, Xavier. Recherches physiolo­giques sur la vie et la mort. Victor Masson, 1800, p. 57. The vari­ant of this pos­i­tion was also high­lighted by Claude Bernard in his text “Définition de la vie,” pub­lished in 1875 in La Revue des deux mondes. “Surgeon Pelletan teaches at a med­ic­al school in Paris that life is a res­ist­ance by which the organ­ised mat­ter opposes the causes that seek to des­troy it.”16Bernard, Claude. Définition de la vie. Revue des Deux Mondes, 2016, p. 23. This defin­i­tion includes neg­a­tion: neg­a­tion is the end of life but also implies the concept of organ­isa­tion or plur­al­ity of func­tions that life pos­sesses to res­ist and defy its end. It fol­lows that life is a com­plex and com­plic­ated sys­tem that dis­rupts the fic­tion of “simple or bare life” (blosse Lebens). The phrase “bare human life” (bloss mensch­liche Leben)17Misch, Georg. Lebensphilosophie und Phänomenologie. Darmstadt, 1975, p. 24. was used as early as 1930 by Georg Misch. The idea that life is easy to define without the help of oth­er terms, that it is enough just to exper­i­ence life, is really a joke. In his book Die Philosophie des Lebens, Heinrich Rickert gives intu­it­ive vital­ity to this fantasy with the state­ment: Das blosse Leben halte ich für sinnlos, for it simply has no value and is noth­ing but mere sur­viv­al. Bruno Bauch also repeats the same argu­ment sev­en years later in his book Philosophie des Lebens und Philosophie der Werte. In the pre­face to the second edi­tion of his book, Rickert adds: “I con­sider mere life mean­ing­less. Only the philo­sophy of a mean­ing­ful life, which is always high­er than a simple life, I con­sider a valu­able goal to be pur­sued, because, due to its basis on the the­ory of inan­im­ate but val­id val­ues ​​that provide mean­ing to life, it can prom­ise that this goal will be met.”18Rickert, Heinrich. Philosophie des Lebens. Tübingen, 1922, p. 129. By declar­ing in more than a hun­dred pages that der Philosophie des blossen Lebens has no future, Rickert, in a sense, coun­ter­in­tu­it­ively and con­trary to con­struct­ive aspir­a­tions, cre­ates a path in think­ing about a new dimen­sion that counts or does not count on bare or simple life in the con­struc­tion of the new notion of social dis­tance, dis­cussed in the first half of the twen­ti­eth year of the twenty-​first century.

On the one hand, there are poly­valent mean­ings of social dis­tan­cing based on the func­tion­al dif­fer­en­ti­ation of dif­fer­ent social sys­tems, while, on the oth­er hand, we encounter a very import­ant bio­lo­gic­al dimen­sion of life in gen­er­al and of human life in par­tic­u­lar. In this con­fu­sion and lex­icon of mix­ture (to recall Foucault again), it is neces­sary to upgrade the clas­sic­al and stand­ard­ized under­stand­ing of social dis­tan­cing. Neither Marx, Polany or Norbert Elias, Helmuth Plessner, nor even Bourdie can help us any­more because, as already men­tioned, the coordin­ate sys­tems and factors ana­lysed to meas­ure and pre­dict dis­tan­cing factors can­not rep­res­ent the com­plex­ity of the con­tem­por­ary mod­el of dis­tance. In an effort to cap­ture this bio­lo­gic­al dimen­sion of human life (although it should be men­tioned that biopol­it­ic­al vari­ations are also unsat­is­fact­ory), it is neces­sary to point out once again the inad­equacy of our nat­ur­al lan­guage, but also the lack of a con­cep­tu­al cor­pus that would enable the ana­lys­is of a new aspect of social distance.

Why do the pro­fes­sion­al lan­guages of bio­logy, epi­demi­ology, infec­ti­ology, and related dis­cip­lines now dom­in­ate descrip­tions, legis­lat­ive recom­mend­a­tions, and tem­por­ary meas­ures of pro­tec­tion? Have these pro­fes­sion­al dis­cip­lines mastered the ter­min­o­lo­gic­al dif­fer­ences (dif­fer­en­tia spe­cifica), where con­ta­gion, con­tam­in­a­tion, infec­tion, trans­mis­sion, hygiene, but also immunity or autoim­munity, to name just a few keywords, no longer cause ambi­gu­ity and con­fu­sion in lay­man and mass usage?  Indeed, it would be good to vec­tor­ize this usage now because in tra­cing iter­a­tions of dif­fer­ent val­ues, it is pos­sible to identi­fy factors that can be rep­res­en­ted in a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al coordin­ate sys­tem in which the concept of dis­tance will be prag­mat­ic but will also have an unam­bigu­ous per­form­at­ive value. Perhaps not even per­form­ativ­ity is enough, but that in this per­form­ativ­ity no neg­at­ive emo­tions of fear and pan­ic or hos­til­ity appear, but that through it an unre­served meas­ure of care appears. It is also import­ant not to for­get the cul­tur­al res­ist­ance faced by all those who, as phys­i­cians, pro­posed changes in habits and con­ven­tions, because not so long ago, in the middle of the 19th cen­tury, Ignaz Semmelweiss, to whom we owe the basic act of wash­ing hands thor­oughly, died in isol­a­tion in an asylum at the age of 47, com­pletely misunderstood.

We repeat the ques­tions from the begin­ning of the text:

How is “dis­tance” cre­ated? Are we wit­ness­ing the change in the under­stand­ing of dis­tance? Does the paradigm shift “about” social dis­tance pre­cede its nor­mal­iz­a­tion and then its normativization?

To frame a prob­lem that will help answer these ques­tions, let us recall a recent mar­ket­ing cam­paign in California to launch the sales of a par­tic­u­lar mod­el of a self-​driving car. The mar­ket was already pre­pared, almost all pro­duc­tion require­ments were met, but the pan­dem­ic occurred. The CEO of Steer Tech start-​up, Anuja Sonalker, sup­ports her PR cam­paign by stat­ing that people are the ones who pose a bio­haz­ard while machines are safe. Without plunging into bench­mark­ing ana­lys­is of inten­tions and motives or into a lan­guage that sup­ports eco­nom­ic tricks and mar­ket pat­terns of any start-​up, this near-​perfect chi­asm fig­ure is a sig­nal for us to pause and be vigil­ant.19Lekach, Sasha. “It Took a Coronavirus Outbreak for Self-​Driving Cars to Become More Appealing.” Mashable, 2 April 2020, mashable.com/article/autonomous-vehicle-perception-coronavirus/?europe=true. Accessed 24 Sept. 2020.

Therefore, people are dan­ger­ous to the lives of oth­ers pre­cisely because they have the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of liv­ing beings. Like oth­er par­tic­u­larly mobile beings, mos­qui­toes, rats, or some lesser-​known rodents, people are bio­haz­ards because they rep­res­ent vec­tors of danger to oth­ers or them­selves. In con­trast to all pre­vi­ous pre­vent­ive and hygien­ic dis­courses on epi­dem­ic, con­ta­gion, infec­tion, and sim­il­ar phe­nom­ena, the devel­op­ment of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence tech­no­lo­gies and oth­er auto­ma­tion pro­cesses now allows the form­a­tion of eth­ic­ally, emo­tion­ally, and onto­lo­gic­ally neut­ral mod­els, which in the near future will make it pos­sible to think of humans exclus­ively in terms of bio­lo­gic­al vectors.

The point is not only that Warburg’s noble for­mu­la­tion (“Live and don’t hurt me!”) might not only aes­thet­i­cize but also human­ize the for­mu­la­tion expressed by Anuja Sonalker, but that by recon­struct­ing the “dic­tion­ary of dis­tance” we might more pre­cisely define the val­ues that vec­tor the degree of pro­tec­tion that can sim­ul­tan­eously pro­tect humans by pre­serving their human­ity but also their ego­ist­ic need for self-​preservation. Two val­ues are sought in the dic­tion­ary of epi­demi­ology, and both are equally import­ant. The first one is the R num­ber, or R0, which is the basic repro­duct­ive num­ber used to meas­ure the poten­tial trans­mis­sion of dis­ease. R0 is the num­ber of people to whom an infec­ted indi­vidu­al will trans­mit the vir­us on aver­age. The R0 num­ber is influ­enced by the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of spe­cif­ic infec­tions, that is, by the rate and ease with which they are trans­mit­ted from per­son to per­son. The R0 value is strongly influ­enced by our beha­viour. It is very import­ant to keep the value of R0 below 1 as this indic­ates that the num­ber of cases recor­ded is decreas­ing. Anything above 1 indic­ates new cases and, there­fore, an increase in the num­ber of infec­tions from con­ta­gion situ­ations. However, the R0 num­ber alone is not suf­fi­cient because it only shows the extent of the epi­dem­ic, its spread or decline, but not the spe­cif­ic extent. The R num­ber should actu­ally be mon­itored in par­al­lel with the num­ber of people cur­rently infec­ted, as explained on the offi­cial UK Government web­site,20Government Office for Science. “Government pub­lishes latest R num­ber.” Gov.uk, 15 May 2020, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-publishes-latest-r-number. Accessed 7 Sept. 2020. where they state the equa­tion: “if R is equal to 1 in 100 000 cur­rently infec­ted people, the situ­ation is quite dif­fer­ent than if the R is equal to 1 in 1000 cur­rently infec­ted people.” To com­plete the pic­ture, it is neces­sary to bring into play the K num­ber or K value, through which the met­ric sys­tem provides a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the vari­ation in the num­ber, par­tic­u­larly in the con­text of the total num­ber of Covid 19 cases in the UK. K also provides insight into a more nuanced pic­ture of how the infec­tion spreads and allows us to track more than just the routes of trans­mis­sion. If the R num­ber rep­res­ents the aver­age num­ber of people a per­son has infec­ted or will infect, the K num­ber emphas­izes that not all people become infec­ted or ill in the same way. If the K num­ber is less than 1, it means that there are many vari­ations in the way the infec­tion spreads. Doctor Adam Kucharski, an expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, explains the pro­cess by say­ing: “The gen­er­al rule is that the lower the K num­ber is, it means that more trans­mis­sions come from a few­er num­ber of infec­ted people. When the K num­ber is below 1, there is a poten­tial danger of a major infec­tion.”21Davis, Nicola. “K Number: what is the coronavir­us met­ric that could be cru­cial as lock­down eases?” The Guardian, 1 June 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/01/k‑number-what-is-coronavirus-metric-crucial-lockdown-eases. Accessed 7 Sept. 2020.

Therefore, it is import­ant to fol­low Warburg’s instruc­tions and dis­tance one­self with some under­stand­ing of the ration­al­iz­a­tions of sci­ence. In sum­mary, in addi­tion to the R num­ber, the K num­ber can determ­ine how, when, and at what rate it will be pos­sible to con­tin­ue with life and renew daily habits without endan­ger­ing or dis­crim­in­at­ing basic social relations.


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